After Roy of the Rovers debut, stars didn't align for Andre Dozzell
- Credit: Archant
Andre Dozzell burst on the scene at Ipswich Town, but sadly saw his progress stall. STUART WATSON reflects on the midfielder's time with the Blues following yesterday's £1m switch to Championship club QPR.
There was a buzz surrounding Andre Dozzell long before he reached the first team fold.
At the age of 13, the Copleston High School pupil was a regular for the Under-16s and had even been on the bench for the U18s.
The fact his dad is Jason, the former Ipswich and Tottenham star, added to the hype.
“I see a lot of me in him,” says Dozzell Snr, speaking to the EADT and Ipswich Star back in 2013. “The way he plays, his style of running – he will be better than me though.
“I’m not saying he will break through at the same age I did or anything like that, but I think he can be better than me, definitely.
Fast forward to April 2016 and a true Roy of the Rovers moment.
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Mick McCarthy, looking for a creative spark to change a game at Sheffield Wednesday, hands Andre his senior debut as a half-time substitute.
Incredibly, in the 71st minute, he popped up to head home an equaliser.
Aged just 16 and 350 days he had repeated the feat of his father, who himself had scored on his own Town debut at the age of 16 years and 57 days back in 1984.
Feelgood football stories don’t get much better than that.
And so the scene was set. The expectation was that it would be lift-off from there. It may well have been had it not been for a cruel injury set-back.
Having been eased into the side during 2016/17, McCarthy saying his team 'hasn't been good enough to accommodate' the teenager, Dozzell was part of the England U17 side that won the European Championships.
He subsequently started Town's opening game of 2017/18 and was absolutely bossing the game against Birmingham.
Now he had truly arrived. His decision to turn down a move to Liverpool looked a smart one.
Then, heartbreakingly, in the 50th minute, he suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury in innocuous fashion. His season was over before it had even begun.
When he returned to action more than a year later, things had changed at the club.
Mick McCarthy had departed. Paul Hurst had arrived. The wheels were in motion for Town’s rock-bottom finish.
A fit-again Dozzell made just 11 starts as the Blues finished bottom. His longest run in the side, three starts, didn't come until April. He just wasn’t seen as the right fit for a relegation scrap, but did at least finish the campaign on a high by scoring in a final day win against Leeds.
Clubs came sniffing - and talks with bitter rivals Norwich got quite advanced - but Dozzell remained at his boyhood club.
The following season, he made just 13 scattered starts. Five of them were in cups. This time his longest run in the starting line-up was just two matches. And that came in March.
Town finished 11th in League One. Dozzell was often accused of ‘not taking his chance’ by frustrated fans - a valid claim – but, in his defence, he was never given a fair crack at building any rhythm either. It also didn't help that he was often played out of position on the wing.
That's when owner Marcus Evans stepped in. It’s understood he instructed Paul Lambert that team selections had to be more consistent and that Dozzell had to be central to the plans going forwards.
Which brings us to the season just gone.
In the opening month of a delayed campaign Dozzell was the star player in a winning side, pulling the strings at the base of midfield. He looked very much at home in the role that England youth coaches had long highlighted as his best. He was finally back on track.
“I made my debut when I was 16 and over the years it doesn’t really feel as if I’ve done much," he said, speaking at that time. "I’m 21 now so it’s definitely time to kick on with my career."
Gradually, however, things started to change for him and the team.
Opponents started to wise up and man mark Town’s deep-lying playmaker. Ipswich, as a team, began to look far too predictable. Dozzell, like so many players, saw his form dip.
It was a surprise when he signed a new three-year contract in December. We now know that there was a £1m buy-out clause inserted in the deal. It was possibly then that all parties realised that things just weren't working out.
Ultimately, a long overdue season of regular first team football will have done the 22-year-old the world of good.
Time will now tell if a fresh start is best for both him and the club.
Andre Dozzell not only sees passes that others don’t, he can execute them too.
The ‘no-look’ pass is a trademark. Some of his switches of play, through the eye of the needle ground passes or first time lofted balls over the top have the crowd purring.
That part of his game is Premier League quality, let alone Championship standard.
And with better attacking players on the same wavelength, he could really shine.
When the going’s good, it looks effortless for Dozzell. When things are a little bit tougher for the team, he can instead appear languid.
For someone so good on the ball, you’d like to see him not just showing for it but really demanding it.
Three goals in 93 appearances isn’t a particularly good return. There hasn’t been anywhere near enough assists either. Mind you, that’s not all on him. The deeper statistics from last season show he was more effective than most when it came to progressing play. Town's creative woes went far deeper than Dozzell.
Nevertheless, speaking in March, he said: “I think there is a lot more to come from me. In this day and age stats are a big thing – like assists and goals for example – and I’m looking to keep pushing on and get the numbers up.
“I think anyone in midfield should be looking to add a few goals to their game, myself included, and especially now that I’m playing as one of two (sitting midfielders), whereas before I was the one.
"The last thing I want is to be a one-trick pony, where I am just a passer of the ball. I do like driving forward with the ball now and then, trying to help the attackers create as well.”
Out of possession, there have been too many soft and clumsy fouls. The physical side of his game has improved, but there’s no doubt Dozzell performs better with a destroyer alongside him. Did that make him too much of a luxury in League One? Perhaps.
One thing’s for sure, it’s a real shame we never got to see more of his partnership with Flynn Downes in the season just gone. Many will remember them dovetailing, along with Tristan Nydam, so well in a pre-season friendly against West Ham in 2018.
WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
The hope is that this conscious uncoupling can work out best for all parties.
Dozzell, surrounded by better players and perhaps reinvigorated by life outside of a home town where everyone knows his name, can hopefully kick on, live up to his potential and eventually bag the Blues a healthy sell-on fee.
Ipswich, meanwhile, can hopefully use the funds wisely, add some much-needed strength and experience to the squad, rectify some imbalances, and do what’s required to get back to the Championship.
Sadly, the stars just did not align for Dozzell at Ipswich Town.